The ugliest of games: DA v. Troy Smith

If anyone doubted the Cardinals are among the five worst teams in the NFL, a humiliating display last night at home in front of a national TV audience, certainly should quell dissenters.  San Francisco’s 27-6 pounding of the Cardinals was shocking in the sense how inept this team really is, a team its coach said had more talent than any other since he arrived here four years ago.  Shocking in the sense, how a 10-6 team of last season could fall so far, so fast. 

Out here in the desert this season that can mean only one thing.  Derek Anderson.  Fans would say the fault lies 95 percent with the quarterback.  But put aside for the moment DA’s dreary game and focus on the winning quarterback and the reasons he produced a victory.

If you had taken a look at Troy Smith’s statistics after the game and nothing else, chances are you would conclude the 49ers lost the game.  Smith completed only 48 percent of his passes, for a mere 129 yards, and had one interception.  His QB rating was a poor 61.7.  And yet the game was not even close. 

What was the difference then?  Simply put Smith had something DA has lacked most of the season, a competent supporting cast.    He had a running game that amassed an amazing 261 yards rushing, even with star running back Frank Gore injured for much of the night.  Smith had receivers that could actually separate themselves from defenders and make big catches when they were needed.  He had a defense that checked the Cardinals to 13 yards in 11 carries, a defense that was able to pressure DA almost every time he passed.

Because he has help, Troy Smith’s flaws are mostly hidden and of virtually no consequence.  As his coach Mike Singletary said after the victory, the running game allowed Smith to concentrate on what he does best and to avoid attempting plays that aren’t there.  San Francisco ran the ball 66.2 percent of the time, exposing their struggling quarterback very little.  By contrast, the Cardinals relied on their struggling quarterback to pass them out of trouble 76.6 percent of the time.

For those time-of-possession freaks who blame DA and the offense for the defense being on the field too long, it might be noted the defense would not be on the field so long if they could stop the other team.  In fact, in last week’s 31-13 loss in Kansas City, the Cardinals won the possession game, 32 minutes to 28. 

One area that has undeservedly escaped the wrath of Cardinals fans is the receivers.   Supposedly the team’s strongest suit, the receivers have had their own problems.  The All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald has had some stunning drops. None more stunning than last night.   DA threw a beautiful pass to Fitzgerald in the end zone.  Fitzgerald rose into the air to make the catch, his forte, but the ball came free, out of hands.  No touchdown. 

Probably the most telling play of the night came in the first half when DA launched a long pass down the sidelines.  It was caught, not by a receiver, but by the running back Beanie Wells, for 43 yards.  The longest pass play of the game.  It was the first time Beanie had gone long for a catch this year, maybe in his entire career including Ohio State.

Why Beanie?  Because the Cardinals have no other viable speed among the wide-outs.  Steven Breaston has the speed but is playing hurt and no doubt will have knee surgery after the season.   Fitzgerald can not get deep.  And, chances are, if the Cardinals decide to throw deep, DA won’t have time.  Same problem as the running game, a poor offensive line.  And where might the tight ends be?  Of the 16 receptions by the Cardinals last night, not one was caught by a tight end.  Not to mention the coach’s obsession with getting the ball to Fitzgerald, even when he’s double-covered.  Which is most of the time.

The Cardinals coach asks the players to trust the system.  It’s worked before.  But this obviously is a different team.  The coaches have tried too hard to stick to the same old stuff with players unsuited to play a possession, ball-control offense and a 3-4 defense that can not pressure opposing passers.   Admittedly, it is hard to change in mid-stream.

But if coach Ken Whisenhunt thought this team was more talented than any he had, it is a sad and frightening commentary on his abilities and the others on his staff.  This is a bad team, and things likely will get uglier.  Just more crap to pile on DA. Or whoever else may be the quarterback.


DA: An eye on the hearse

The end is getting near for Derek Anderson.  If the Cardinals don’t win tomorrow night at home against the San Francisco 49ers, the team will likely pull the plug on their long-villified quarterback.  I hope I’m wrong.  

One, I like Derek Anderson.  And two, I dread watching the last five games with a backup quarterback and a grimace on my face.  Max Hall, the backup, is the kind of players fans say they love.  He’s a long shot.  Short with no arm.  But he spits on his hands and wipes them in dirt.  He’s in the coach’s face like a puppy dog, wanting to please, begging to play.  If DA is to go down, I’d much rather watch the No. 3, John Skelton, get creamed and reamed. 

Anderson never had a chance in Arizona despite his gifts.  A great arm, a 6-6 frame and courage seldom get you anywhere once the fans turn on you.  And they turned on DA before the season even started.   If the coach, Ken Whisenhunt, had hired an offensive coordinator, if DA got better coaching, if the Whiz hadn’t handled so poorly the demotion and release of  this year’s expected starter, Matt Leinart, if, if, if . . . .  Now it is too late, and I feel sad for DA.  I feel sad for myself in that I will probably never witness that great game I believe is inside him.   That’s how life is sometimes.  You get your chance but it is the wrong place at the wrong time. 

I look at Anderson’s potential and think of the film, “Agnes of God.”   An immaculate conception seems to take place right before the viewer’s eyes, and yet it is not believed.   Fans look at Derek Anderson and think only the worst.  I don’t think they would believe in the Second Coming of Joe Montana if he came in the cleats of DA.   The only other Cardinals quarterback I can remember who was so hated by local fans was, yes, Kurt Warner, that Kurt Warner who was given up for dead in 2006, that Kurt Warner whose resurgence over the next three seasons took the Cardinals to heights they’d never seen.

Many Cardinals fans are now hoping the team loses the rest of its games.  That way they will earn a “lottery” pick in the next draft, grab a young quarterback sent from above.   How quickly they forget that Cardinals brass has passed on top talent before.  Like Adrian Peterson three years ago.  How quickly they forget the top three quarterbacks in the 2006 draft.  The No. 1 pick that years, Vince Young, is still floundering in Tennessee.  Leinart is a third-stringer in Houston.  And only the quarterback taken third, Jay Cutler of Chicago, is showing signs of life. 

My wish is this.  I would like the Cardinals to keep DA no matter what.  Win on Monday Night Football or not.  Maybe he will have a break-out game in what may be the inconsequential remaining games.  Why go with Hall  who will never take you to the promised land?  Why send Skelton to a certain humiliation as a starter?  Stay with DA.  He’s the best chance for the future right now.  Wait for a few months to see if you can do better.

But I admit time is running out.  Hopefully DA will have a big game against the Niners.  The big black vehicle with the curtained windows is warmed up, the driver with orders to take the carcass to the nearest cemetery.

`Fair Game’ and a nose-dive into shallow waters

I could do just nicely, thank you, without a recounting of the Valerie Plame incident of 2003.  I know that song and dance too well.  I know that Plame, a CIA agent, was outed for the worst of reasons by the Bush administration.  I know Plame and her husband, Joe Wilson, were torched because they got in the way. They got in the way between truth of WMD and Bush’s mad march to selling that tragic war in Iraq.

What I have always wanted to know right up to this very day is Why.  Why did Bush pull the trigger on a needless war?

Take your pick of the nebulous possibilities.  Bush wanted to show up Daddy Bush, our fearless leader in the first Gulf War.  Or he wanted to do the oil companies a favor.  That he and his neocon associates wanted to build an American empire just as the U.S. began to stumble off the mountaintop.  Or that as “a war-time president” he could pull a subservient Congress’s reins to further his radical goal of creating a ruling class of rich mucks in this country and letting the rest of us go to hell.  Or even that it was a huge right-wing conspiracy.

Take one or all of those reasons.  Or make up one.  But if you’re an artist making a film about the Plame incident, surely you can do better than the recent docudrama, Fair Game.  Surely you can come up with something new in the telling.  Like give us a view of what made the crucifying of Valerie Plame, her family and some innocent Iraqi citizens she was trying to help out of their country so important. 

But instead Fair Game gives us a love story and a study of Plame’s character, of finding herself again and her strong nature.   But who would care except soap opera addicts?   This movie is just more fiddling while our Rome burns.  Engulfed in the flames of the government’s lies, smoke and mirrors and hidden agenda.   It is like so much in America anymore.  Flash but no substance, another distraction for the masses.

The director, Doug Liman, had so much to work with.  A great American actor in Sean Penn, who plays the whistle-blowing former ambassador Joe Wilson.  An attractive and engaging actress in Naomi Watts, who portrays the efficient agent Plame who loses her career.    And most of all a subject that after seven years is still explosive  —  Bush’s war in Iraq.   And yet Liman took the soft approach, an approach that, if lucky, might not lose for Fair Game as much money as I think it should.

Only those who know little or nothing of the Plame incident will find this film halfway engaging.  And, if you do not know anything about Plame at this late date, chances are you won’t profit from viewing this film.  It’s a waste of time.

`Cholla’ Mountain: Our annual Thanksgiving Day hike, 2010

`Cholla' appears as a cone from 2 miles away on the jeep road . . .

Of our 25 years together, Nebra and I have mostly spent Thanksgiving Day on a desolate trail out here in Arizona.  She happily calls it a tradition, and I guess it is.  Of the 19 Thanksgivings I have recorded since 1986, we have done hikes on 14 of them.  I have no account of what we did on the other five but I have to believe most if not all of those years found us on a dusty or rocky trail on our way up to a mountaintop.

What we do is this.  The night before our hike, Nebra prepares the Thanksgiving Day meal for the trail.  This year, she made up three baked-turkey sandwiches and her speciality, cranberry-oatmeal bars, and the next morning tossed them into her backpack along with some carrot sticks and broccoli.  She plans to defer the traditional dinner to Sunday.

Our destination this year was a hike to the top of a very small mountain west of Lake Pleasant, a recreation area  about 40 miles north of Phoenix.  The mountain’s name is unclear.  It is either Baldy, Francis Rogers or Cholla.  It is only about 2,750 feet in elevation, but was said to offer magnificent views of the lake and other mountains in central Arizona.

I am not one of those hikers who is obsessed with speed or mileage or degree of difficulty.  What I like best about hiking a new trail in a desolate area like this is simple.  I like making decisions and trying to understand the environment that confronts me.  Some are small.  Which way does the trail go here?  Why do so many saguaros grow there?  Where did this volcanic rock come from?  Things like that. 

Some are life and death decisions.  Like at what point to turn back on a trail so you do not get caught by darkness and become  lost? 

. . . but is actually a flat-top as the hiker comes closer.

On this often vague trail, called 2HikerZ by the couple who designed, cleared and marked it with cairns, the big concern was the nightfall thing.  When to turn around.  Although the day was sunny, it was already cool, in the mid 50s.  The first freeze of autumn was expected by morning.       

It did not help that we arrived late at the Trailhead via paved road well after 1 o’clock.   And then just to find the real Trailhead took another 15 minutes.  The “builders” said the trail was made “deliberately vague” at the start to prevent motorized vehicles from tearing it up.   We eased across a barbed wire fence and finally backtracked up an old jeep road, to the left not the right, and found a very small cairn.  It was about 1:30 with two miles ahead to the summit.  Plenty of daylight.  Sunset at 5:26. 

An hour up, not counting time for our Thanksgiving picnic, and an hour down.  No problem, I thought.  It was beautiful.  Not a cloud in sight.  Temps near 60 F. 

Sometimes it takes a while to adjust to the trailblazer’s system.  2HikerZ and his wife had done a marvelous job clearing a small trail, sometimes with rock borders and placing cairns at critical junctures.  Even sawing off good-sized limbs of an obstructing palo verde.  But in places the trail was, well, vague.

The trail has a heavy cactus coat of formidable Teddy Bear Cholla

It did not take long for me to choose Cholla as the appropriate name for this looming mountain.  Amid the scrub of young saguaro, brittle bush, creosote and various thorny plants that cover the area lie fields of Teddy Bear Cholla, or Jumping Cholla.  The Teddy Bear may look beautiful, soft and innocent when its yellowish-white spikes are backlit by the sun.  But these cacti are formidable and potentially crippling to the hiker.  At least three “jumped” on my blue jeans and hiking boots going up.  I have read that desert rats place balls of Cholla in front of their burrows for protection.

The Teddy Bear has balls of fine, strong spikes that stick to anything that passes along.   Once the spikes hit skin, they dig painfully in.  Getting the spikes out is not easy.  Hiking years ago in the Buckeye Hills I ran into a Teddy Bear with my knee and hobbled around for several days afterward.  The “ball” of the Teddy Bear can best be knocked off by a stick or a hair comb.  But to get the spikes out, a small pliers would come in handy.  Some of the spikes stuck in the hard-rubber soles of my boots and would not come out.  Long pants are a must on this trail.

The trail begins by following a ridge line that dips slightly into lava rocks of black pumice before heading up through heavy Cholla to the top of The Hill and then down to the base of Cholla Mountain.  It soon became a heads-down trail, stumbling over steady rock.  Still Nebra was able to catch sight of a pair of wild burros in front of her.  She thought they were beautiful.  But they disappeared, the only four-footed creatures seen all afternoon.  

An unwanted companion: A ball of Teddy Bear Cholla stuck in my boot.

We stopped at the base of the mountain to eat.  A small but deep box-canyon lay just to the southwest.  Fall in there and kiss your life good-bye.  No one would find you even if you were only injured.  No other hikers were seen this day. 

Nebra and I shared a flat rock for seating and ate leisurely at first then more quickly.  I was starting to fret a bit about nightfall and reaching the summit was important.  It had taken longer than I thought to reach this point, an hour and 15 minutes, and I estimated another 30 minutes would pass before we reached the top.  The trail ascended steeply at this point over rough ground.

A Summit with A View: Nebra hoists a toast of agua fria to celebrate our arrival on top.

Not only was the trail steep, it was littered with small boulders and some loose rock.  No depressing scree though.  I had to halt several times to catch my breath.  Again, I miscalculated the time.  It took 40 minutes to reach the summit from the picnic area, not 30.  Time, 3: 27 p.m. and long shadows were starting to form.  I wondered if the trail might be less apparent coming down.  Trails always look different depending on which way you travel them.

Anyway, the description was right.  The summit offered a wonderful vista.  The Bradshaw Mountains to the north, the dazzling blue lake below, even the skyline of downtown Phoenix. And the big silver blimp that is University of Phoenix Stadium where we hope to be Monday night for a football game between the Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.

In the distance too we could see the sites of two memorable Thanksgiving outings.  Four Peaks where we’d gone for our first hike in ’86 lay far to the east and behind us, on the west, was Vulture Peak, near Wickenburg, where we’d gone in 2001.  Vulture was an emotional hike.  It was not long after 9/11, and on the summit someone had planted a small American flag in rocks. 

It is always interesting to see what’s on the top of any mountain.  Sometimes it is nothing.  From the road, the Cholla summit appeared in the shape of a volcanic cone.  But in truth it is largely flat and brushy and rocky.  My GPS calculated the elevation at 2,736 feet, a deceiving 891 feet above where the car was parked.  It was harder than that.

Looking down on Lake Pleasant, one of many fine views from `Cholla.'

Also on top, there was a six-foot cairn.  At the bottom etched in stone:  “Homer Campbell/Julia Campbell/March 1 1920.”    To the right was a silver plaque bolted into rock:  “Francis Rogers Mountain/ Mrs. Francis Grace Rogers/Cartographer Arizona Highways Dept./1915-1960.”

We started down at 3:50.  My fears of an even vaguer trail were misplaced.  It is much easier losing a trail going up than down.  You can not see far ahead on ascent.  But usually on descent, by looking ahead 10 to 15 feet, you can pick up a “lost” trail very easily.  

I caught five more cholla balls on the way to the car.  I flicked each off with a stick.  None punctured skin.  We got down to the picnic spot in half the time it took to go up, and we were back at the car well before dark.  We had made it back to the Trailhead in only an hour. 

It may not have been the best hike we’ve taken on Thanksgiving, but like any of them it had its memorable moments.  The Teddy Bear “attacks,” the pumice field, the burros, the plaque and etching on the summit, the difficult ascent from the picnic spot.  But most of all I’ll remember Nebra and I doing it together, our unusual way of celebrating the holiday.

Open up the offense: It’s the only way out for the Cardinals now

If there has ever been an undeserved whipping boy for the Cardinals, it has been quarterback Derek Anderson.  He was blamed by many again yesterday for an embarrassing 36-18 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.  Blamed despite a porous defense, dropped passes, no running game, poor pass protection and questionable play calling by the coach, Ken Whisenhunt. 

In its print edition this morning, the Arizona Republic‘s lead photo in Sports showed Anderson with head bowed walking off the field after the game.  The Republic could not have stated it more clear:  Derek Anderson is a colossal failure, the poster-child for defeat, the one thing holding the Cardinals back.  Without question the simplistic media coverage has failed miserably to identify  the root of the Cardinals sad season.   Ownership’s retrenchment is the elephant in the room.

Poor DA, as he is called.  He never had a chance here.  He was DOA from Cleveland.  He was vilified from the moment he took over the starting job in preseason when the expected starter, Matt Leinart, was released in what appears a massive dumping of expensive contracts by the organization.  You do not have to be a NASA engineer to see the team’s depleted talent pool since the end of last season.

As for DA, this hatred directed his way must hurt.  He is without doubt, along with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the best thing this beleaguered team has going for it right now.  The defense is in shambles, special teams lost its ace kickoff returner, LaRod Stephens-Howling to injury, punter Ben Graham has gone south and the distrustful Whisenhunt puts the brakes on DA just when everything seems to be humming on offense.

You have to go no further than Sunday’s loss to see the obstacles DA has to shoulder.  A fourth straight defeat, by the way, that left the Cardinals with a 3-6 record and at the bottom of the NFL’s weakest division.  This all began several weeks ago when Whisenhunt listened to the crowd, panicked and inserted the unready Max Hall as the starter.  The Hall Experiment led to two defeats that should have been in the win column.  Perhaps it was at that point the team lost faith in its coach. 

Those DA bashers must have had blinders on Sunday to miss the potential that rests in this quarterback’s strong right arm.  He drove the Cardinals 52 yards for a TD after the opening kickoff, throwing for 46 yards that included a dazzling accurate pass of 33 yards along the sidelines to Fitzgerald who made another of his  acrobatic catches. 

The problem with that drive for the time-possession freaks is that it took hardly any time off the clock.  Only 2:12, and that, they might say, did not give the defense time enough to prepare, to rest and think, har-har, about their first trip onto the field.  And look what happened, these freaks would say.  The defense allowed the passing of Matt Hasselbeck free rein to travel 77 yards and tie the score.  Let’s blame DA.

It was obvious at that point the Cardinals defense was headed for a long afternoon and by halftime the unit had relinquished 273 yards to the comfortable Hasselbeck who was seldom touched by the Cardinals feeble pass rush.   If Hasselbeck would not have broken the wrist to his non-passing hand in the second quarter, it is likely he would have reached close to 500 yards.  Not a bad afternoon’s work.

And it seemed at that point too Whisenhunt was going to have to open up the passing game.  No short passes all the time.  Throw long.  Be daring.  But alas, he chose what is his nature.  He applied the brakes with conservative plays, Warner-like passes into the flats — and in essence chose death over life.

Whisenhunt it seems lost his team — at least for this day– in the first half.   On the second series, rather than keep the throttle open, he ran Tim Hightower on first down for 1 yards and, rather than keep throwing long, watched as DA tossed two incompleted short passes to well-covered receivers.  These were plays not designed for options, as if DA has much time anyway in the pocket to look for second and third choices. 

The Cardinals offense that half had two glittering opportunities wasted, largely the fault of conservative and strange play calls.  With the ball on Seattle’s 33 and sure points ahead, Whisenhunt chose to run on first down, a net of two yards, and then on second down, of all things, tried the “wildcat” offense with wide receiver Early Doucet who struggled for a couple more yards.  Then on third and 6, DA, perhaps thunderstruck by the play calling, stupidly took a sack, putting the Cardinals out of field-goal range.

On the fourth series, DA marched the Cardinals downfield.  But on first down and goal at the Seattle 6, the coach did the predictable.  He ran Hightower at left end for two yards.  He then tried a short pass to Fitzgerald, a pass no doubt Seattle had seen over and over on film.  Fitzgerald comes off a screen by a teammate, hoping to scrape off the defender.  DA threw the pass.  It was a completion, yes, but Seattle was ready.  The play lost a yard.  Most disheartening was the third down call, a run into the middle of the field by Hightower for no gain.  One had the feeling then Whisenhunt was settling on a field goal and was too scared of DA throwing an interception. 

So, at a time, the Cardinals could have put pressure on the Seahawks, it was a disaster.  Rather than have 10 points tucked into their pads, they had but three.  And along with that a growing sense the coach had no faith in DA’s downfield passing game.  The Cardinals came out for the third quarter and played listlessly until the game was virtually out of reach.

In his column this morning, the Republic‘s Dan Bickley wrote, “These days, the Cardinals only chance of winning is to play conservatively on offense and hope the defense rises to the occasion.  And yet that defense is getting torched with regularity, with no answers in sight.”

That is ridiculous medicine for the offense.  The Cardinals should not play more conservatively. They should open it up.  Throw deep on first down.  Take chances.  That is the only way they can win now that they are truly exposed on defense.

This year has been a failure of Whisenhunt to change with the times.  He has failed to mesh his play calling with the talents of DA.  It’s as if the coach thinks Kurt Warner is still taking the snaps.  Derring-do is his only hope now.  It may not work.  But it is DA’s strength. 

Contrary to his first three seasons, Whisenhunt has showing himself to be a mortal after all in this, the fourth.  Cardinal fans are coming to the realization that it was Warner, not so much Whisenhunt, that led to the good times and the Super Bow.

The Whiz is saddled with much less talent team than last season when he had Warner.  Not his fault.   But this is not Pittsburgh where he cut his coaching teeth.  There is no great Steelers defense out there to save the day.  

It is time to let DA be the player that he can be, whatever that is, good or bad, and let the chips fall where they may.  Could it get worse than Sunday?

The Whiz taking one for the organization?

I can not believe I am beginning to feel sorry for Ken Whisenhunt.  But I am.  And I may be the only one.

The Cardinals coach has begun to take serious heat from fans as the team stumbled into the halfway point of the NFL season with a 3-5 record.  Forget that 3-5 is where most observers thought the Cardinals would be right now.  But it is difficult to overlook the Whiz’s most glaring problem.  The offense.  Since there is no offensive coordinator and he calls plays from the sidelines, the offense is in essence Whiz’s baby.

But then you look at the reality.  That reality to me at least is that the owner and the organization as a whole decided investing in player talent this season was not in the interest of the team’s long-range goals, that winning in 2010 was not the primary focus.  That focus I believe was on capital preservation, saving money for the potential rainy days of 2011, when labor issues could lead to an owners lockout or a players strike.  It could mean part or all of the season wiped out. 

The Cardinals retrenchment is probably a smart move.  But it is not a move they want to advertise.  It is hard to raise ticket prices in one breath and say in the other `buy those tickets to see a bad product.” 

The retrenchment would explain the quarterback situation.  The sudden and shocking release of its one-time quarterback of the future, Matt Leinart, he with the big contract coming up in 2011, and muddling around with the failed Max Hall experiment, Hall with a small contract and only $5,000 invested in signing him.  This is not to mention all the talent that departed after 2009 and was replaced by aging NFL retreads, like guard Alan Faneca and linebacker Joey Porter, both 33 years old, and linebacker Paris Lenon, 32.  That you would replace a proven pro like tackle Mike Gandy with a struggling newcomer like Brandon Keith boggles the mind, and move another slow-footed tackle to protect the quarterback’s blind side is equally astonishing.

Any way you cut it, the Cardinals built this team for one year and one year only.  For 2010.

The Cardinals arguably could’ve made a run at a proven commodity at quarterback, like Donovan McNabb, but didn’t.   And, again on offense, add the under-performing of recent No. 1 draft picks, tackle Levi Brown and running back Beanie Wells, the discarding of Leinart and the disinterest in finding a tight end that can not only block but catch.  Brown and Wells, by the way, being tied together through separate drafts.  If the Cardinals used the Levi Brown pick as they should’ve, running back Adrian Peterson would be here, not in Minnesota, and there would’ve been no need to draft the injury-plagued Wells.

If these decisions were in essence all made by the owning Bidwill family telling GM Rod Graves,  “Save money anyway you can, but we need to get down to this dollar figure for our budget going into 2011,” then perhaps the Whiz needs a break, that the coach is biting the bullet for everyone in the organization, taking the heat while they hide in the shadows. 

In that case, the Cardinals mantra, “We do this together,” takes on a whole different aspect.

So what Cardinals fans are watching in Sunday’s all-important home game with the Seattle Seahawks is a game within a game.  On one hand the Cardinals are a watered-down product, much less than they should’ve been, and for sure an aesthetic failure.  They struggle along with nearly the worst team stats in the league, on defense as well as offense.

But, here they are in mid-November, with a shot at winning the division and getting another stab at the playoffs. 

Maybe we should come to praise the Whiz, not to bury him, to salute him in a way for what he’s had to put up with as the organization’s front man.  That he could win a division title this year might be the brightest red feather in his so-far distinguished cap.

An adventure into palladium

I bought into palladium yesterday.  I should say I tip-toed in, knowing this precious metal had shot up almost on a straight line.   My journal note said it all:  “Most likely bought into a bubble.”  

Palladium is a place I never thought I’d be.  I didn’t know much about it except that it makes a handsome ring.  I didn’t know that it is used primarily for catalytic converters in automobiles, that Russia is the biggest producer with South Africa also in the chase, that the price has advanced 50 percent this year.  Only 187 to 250 tons are produced each year. 

But I couldn’t resist.   It has beaten the price of gold so bad of late that it’s almost ridiculous.  Since I began to chart gold, silver, platinum and palladium on October 5, palladium by November 8 had advanced more than any of them.  It jumped 22.1 %  compared to gold’s 4.7% and platinum’s 4.2%.  Silver has also soared, up 20.8% in the same time.  Palladium bullion was $579 an ounce a month ago, but at the end of today was $700 after reaching $707 on the 8th. 

As I understand it, American investors have had a crack at palladium only since the first of the year with the ETF called PALL.  It is hardly a blip on the trading screen compared to giants like Exxon Mobil, which has a volume 62 times that of PALL. 

So yesterday I bought a very small stake in PALL at what seemed a premium, $72.60 a share.  PALL actually owns the bullion.  It’s kept in banks in London and Zurich. 

The day went fine for a while.  The price shot up, I went somewhere and came back to the somber news PALL for some reason had dropped $4 per.  I was relieved to see today that it had recovered about half, $2.06 on above average trading, and my hopes are, if not soaring, certainly upward, thinking a few good days are in the winds.

Perhaps my cheerfulness stems from a rewarding experience in gold.  I bought my first gold in 2007, a handful of American Eagle coins, that have doubled in value.  A short time later I invested in the gold ETF, called GLD, and have done almost as well.  

My idea is that palladium, gold and other precious metals are a hedge, not against inflation, but against the weakening dollar. 

Although gold is said to have hit record levels, this morning’s New York Times begs to differ.  The highest price, reporter David Leonhardt writes, was an inflation-adjusted $2,387 an ounce in 1980.  That’s almost 70 percent above today’s price of $1,402.  With that in mind I’m betting there’s an upside still for not only gold, but for my newly-acquired palladium as well.